English language bookshops in Paris are battling to offset declining sales after a marked drop in tourism to the city following the spate of terrorist attacks.
Hotel occupation is down 12% in June 2016 in comparison to the same month the year before, according to MKG Hospitality, and flight arrivals to Paris in July down 10% in comparison to a year earlier, according to travel data tracker ForwardKeys. French officials estimate that a drop in tourism has cost the Paris region €750m (£644m), with Japanese visitors down 46.2% in the first half of the year in comparison to 2015, Russian visitors down 35%, and Chinese tourists down 19.6%.
The drop in tourism has meant English language stores Berkeley Books of Paris and the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop have been hit by lower sales.
Phyllis Cohen, owner of Berkeley Books of Paris (below), said sales at her store were down 50% this month in comparison to July, while the Shakespeare and Company bookshop said its revenues were down 4% this year in comparison to 2015's figures, despite adding a new café and children’s section in store.
Cohen told The Bookseller: “The Parisians were just starting to recover some of their joie de vivre when the mass murder at the Bataclan and in Belleville happened. Even in their shock, some Parisians made it a point to go out, to reclaim the terrasses of the city and support the live music scene…But by and large, more than ever, Parisians stayed in.
“Then the tourists and exchange students must have taken fright and changed their plans. They're just not here in numbers any more. The bookshop's clientele, historically, has been a 50/50% mix of locals and Anglophone tourists. Like many small businesses that rely at least in part on tourism, I've taken hits coming and going.”
Immediately after the attacks, Berkeley Books of Paris scheduled a string of concerts with the aim of drawing Parisians out of their apartments which resulted in “a few cathartic late nights in the bookshop last November, where locals danced and drank together”. However, Cohen added that several stores around her had not been able to survive the plummet in custom. “So many small businesses have closed recently, I don't know where to begin,” she said. “On this single block, a traiteur on the corner closed, as did a very good restaurant just two doors down from me. This is in the centre of Paris. Up in my neighbourhood, Montmartre, small restaurants and bars are closing. I recently saw a sign in the window of one of them that read 'Diners needed. No experience necessary’."
Cohen said that her figures were “humble” but “steady” before the murders, but now they are “a tiny economic disaster in the midst of a larger one”.
Sylvia Beach Whitman, owner of the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris (below), agreed the city was “calm, quiet…and a little eerie”. The bookshop made the headlines during the attacks on The Bataclan and restaurants and bars in the city last November after sheltering tourists while the perpetrators were still on the loose.
“We have looked at our figures and we are down by around 4%, but this is despite opening a café last October and a new children’s section,” Whitman said. “So we were actually expecting to be up in comparison to last year, after that investment. Tourism is down, definitely, we are all seeing that. The news is reporting here that US and Japanese tourist visitors numbers are low, and we would get a lot of American visitors coming into the shop.”
She added: “The mood is extremely calm, very quiet, almost a little bit eerie… The staff who came in today commented that there was no queue outside Notre Dame which is unheard of, that has got to be a first.”
Whitman added that the bookshop launched its e-commerce website about 18 months ago and saw an uptick in international sales immediately following the November attacks, with people wanting to show their support. However, this has not continued.
Not all English language bookshops in Paris are experiencing a drop in sales, though. Jim Carroll, owner of San Francisco Bookshop in Paris, said his sales were “better than they’ve ever been”, although 80% of his business is online. “I thought we would take a hit, Paris is very quiet right now because all the Parisiens are away on holiday too, but we are holding up,” he said.
Online is now an avenue Berkley Books is investing in. “I (am) steering the bookshop through hard times by adapting and increasing internet sales,” Cohen said. “I have to take the long view, to ensure the bookshop is still here when people come to their senses and venture out again.”
Shakespeare and Company too has hopes that sales will pick up in the autumn when it is the bookseller for Festival America in Paris next month. The opening of its café and new children’s section has also brought more French customers into the shop, which has “has helped to increase sales a bit,” Whitman said.
French publishers sales are holding up, however. Last month The Bookseller reported that French book publishers’ sales increased marginally by 0.6% in 2015 to €2.267bn in value and up 3.5% to 436.7m in volume, according to the french publishers Association (Syndicat National de l’Edition, SNE).